Hazelton seeks seat in 'next chapter'

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JAMAICA — Looking to return to the West River Education District board, Drew Hazelton wants to be involved in what he described as "the next chapter of the school system."

"I think the work of the board is not done yet," Hazelton said. "I think we've got a lot of really important decisions in the next few years for the education of our kids."

Hazelton, 41, estimated that he has been on local school boards for about 15 or 16 years. He served on boards governing Jamaica Village School and Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School in Townshend. He also was on the study committee tasked with looking at complying with Act 46, the 2015 education law that encouraged school districts to merge to improve equity for students and find efficiencies.

The West River Education District was created in response to that law. Its voters are from Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend and Windham.

Hazelton, who has served on the board since its formation about two years ago, currently represents Jamaica. He now is running against Mike Foley of Townshend, who is defending an "at-large" seat — meaning the board member can be from any of the five towns. The election will be decided by Australian ballot on Wednesday, March 25, the same day the district is voting on the budget.

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Hazelton said he wanted to run for the "at-large" seat after hearing residents of Jamaica were interested in serving on the board. He also likes the idea of representing multiple communities.

"As a member of the West River board," he said, "you work for all the communities anyway."

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Hazelton called transparency "a big focus" as the board worked through challenges related to structuring the new district and the effects on students.

"I think the board has done a good job creating opportunities in a difficult time," he said, referring to impact of declining enrollment and tighter budgets. "It's very challenging. There's a lot of school governance not controlled locally."

Enrollment in the district is hopefully stabilizing, Hazelton said, but it will be something for the board to watch. For him, the goal is to balance the desire to provide "excellent educational opportunities with the small resources we have." He also noted the need to address deferred maintenance at the school buildings.

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Hazelton anticipates a new pupil weighting study, which recommended changes to Vermont's education funding system after finding inequities for rural students and students learning English, could have a "huge effect" on how the board will be able to provide opportunities moving forward. The Vermont Legislature is considering new bills to change the current system.

Hazelton also is chief of operations at Rescue Inc. He and his wife grew up in the West River Valley.

"It's very important to us and me what happens to our school system," he said. "That's why board members do it."

The board, made up of 11 members, will have five seats turn over next month. Two seats from Jamaica will be filled from the floor at annual Town Meeting Day in Jamaica. A seat from Townshend will be filled from a vote on the floor at annual Town Meeting Day on March 3 in Townshend. A seat from Newfane will be voted on via Australian ballot at annual Town Meeting Day in Newfane.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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